While the entire world reacts to Felix Baumgartner breaking the speed of sound, a group of protesters in Kuwait just broke their own sound barrier. An estimated 20,000 protestors (according to event organizers) gathered in Kuwait’s landmark Erada Square today to voice their opposition to rumored attempts by the Ruler of Kuwait to amend the Election Law.
Kuwait’s debacle started back in June when the constitutional court annulled the existing parliament and reinstated the previous one, on grounds that the Emir committed an unconstitutional fallacy when he dissolved the later. Supporters of the court’s decision cheered what they saw as a triumph for checks and balances. In their view, this was the first time the courts challenged the Emir’s decision, who constitutionally has oversight over all branches of government, including the judicial. Skeptics viewed the court’s decision to annul the parliament as an indirect attempt by the Emir to dismantle a very strong opposition bloc that formed in parliament.
The fear of the court’s lack of transparency has always loomed overhead in Kuwait. This fear was put to the test in August when after failing to have the reinstated parliament reconvene, the government challenged the constitutionality the election law by having it referred to the constitutional court. Many feared this was an attempt to lay a cover of legitimacy over an attempt by the government to manipulate the outcome of new elections. The government challenged the distribution of the voters and the number of districts. Thankfully, to everyone’s surprise, the constitutional court’s ruling upheld the existing election law. Thus once again displaying transparency and shared balance of powers among branches of government.
All the while, street protests and demonstrations have not stopped since. From June, and through the holy month of Ramadan, demonstrators have been going to Erada square on semi-weekly basis, voicing their rage at the state of affairs Kuwait is in. They have gone out against the court’s decision to annul parliament, and they have gone out cheering for the court’s decision to uphold the election law.
However, matters took a dangerous turn following the court’s decision to uphold the election law. The Emir, who has final say on all matters in Kuwait, was rumored to have decided to change the election law via Urgency Decree, a right held solely by the Emir. Furthermore, for Urgency Decrees to be issued, parliament has to be either in recess or dissolved (another power held solely by the Emir). This is why the Emir decided to dissolve parliament last week, amidst growing concerns that he will change the election law by Decree.
In an unprecedented move late last night, the Emir sent two top aides to meet with opposition bloc/event organizers to call on them to cancel or postpone the rally. However, more shockingly, was the response from the opposition that they will not cancel the rally without a clear statement from the Emir or government that their will be no Decree changing the election law.
Which brings us to October 15th 2012, where the 20,000 (unofficial numbers) protesters rallied in Erada Square to voice their objection to changing the election law. the key speaker of the night, was Musallem Al-Barrak, the charismatic MP who draws crowds (including police officers) numbering in the thousands when he speaks. Al-Barrak said
“Today we address [The Emir] Sabah Al-Ahmed directly… We will not allow you, your highness, to take Kuwait into the abyss of autocracy… We no longer fear your prisons and your riot sticks… If your highness decides to change the election law by Emiri Decree, then you alone are responsible for complicating matters and you alone are responsible for resolving it…”
After which the protesters sent a clear and defiant message in chanting “we will not allow you… we will not allow you…”
Sadly, the rally did not end peacefully as protesters clashed with security forces when they attempted to march in groups towards the judicial courts building and Al-Seif Palace (the main governing building). Initial reports state that some protesters have been hospitalized while others have been arrested including event organizers and key activists one of whom is Abdulaziz Al-Sadoun (son of Former Speaker of the House and Opposition Leader Ahmed Al-Sadoun). This has now sparked claims that the arrests were preplanned and targeted against specific individuals
Video showing the arrest of Abdulaziz Al-Sadoun
Criticism of the Emir is banned by the constitution, and although the wording of the article is a bit vague, no one before has openly challenged the position of Emir, let alone create a chant to follow. We might have just witnessed Kuwaitis breaking their own sound barrier…
Update (9 am): According to AFP attendance was around 5,000… its not uncommon for event organizers to exaggerate attendance numbers